Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Greenpeace


  1.  Adopt a clear policy objective to establish the UK as world leader in the commercial wave power industry.

  2.  Set ambitious targets to achieve electricity from wave power for 2010, 2020, 2030.

  3.  Set a Scottish target to obtain 10 per cent of Scotland's electricity from wave power in 10 years.

  4.  Allocate £50 million per year to develop wave power.

  5.  The trajectory of granting should be big grants for small projects then smaller grants for big projects.

  6.  Develop a strategy to make the UK wave programme sufficiently attractive to draw in "big hitters", including the large maritime engineering and oil and gas interests. Big company support is required to overcome early obstacles and diversification would bring great benefit to the UK regions that are starting to suffer from the economic effects of decline in the UK oil and gas sector.

  7.  Use some of the grant money to set up a UK test centre for wave power (and tidal current power) on Orkney.

  8.  Ensure a domestic commercial market for wave power. Grant funding should be used to bridge the gap so that electricity from wave power becomes a competitive option for utility companies to fulfil their renewable energy obligations.

  9.  Cut the red tape by creating a one-stop-shop for allocation and approval of sites for offshore wave power developments.

  10.  Institute rules and incentives to ensure that the utility companies undertake a far-reaching programme to up-grade the weak peripheral grid areas critical to exploitation of the wave power resource.

1.  Introduction

  Greenpeace experience and expertise in renewable energy arises from more than a decade campaigning for the clean renewable energy sources of wind, solar and wave power, as solutions to the problems of climate change caused by mankind's use of fossil fuels.

  By the standards of climate science, it is not difficult to calculate how much carbon dioxide can be released to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels before mankind will break an ecological limit of 1ºC long-term global temperature rise. The UN Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases have advised that going above this limit "may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage". The startling result is that our "carbon budget" is less than a quarter of existing fossil fuel reserves. Reserves are the portion of global fossil fuel resources already defined as economically and technically viable, the total resource estimate runs to four times as much again. In other words, it is not a question of "running out of fossil fuels": the question is how to keep 95 per cent of remaining fossil fuels underground whilst supplying the world's energy requirementsi. The answer lies in replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in the next 30-40 years.

  Greenpeace has recently been actively campaigning for wave power. In 1999 Greenpeace launched a campaign in Scotland following the announcement that Scottish Renewables Order funding was to support the building of three wave power machines. The campaign included a series of business conferences around Scotland at Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Islay. The campaign also included bringing the Greenpeace flagship, Rainbow Warrior, to these locations to publicise the campaign and engage the public. In addition, Greenpeace contributed personnel, boats and equipment to carry out initial seabed surveying work on Islay to assist the progress of the wavepower companies Wavegen and Ocean Power Delivery. The response to the Greenpeace campaign was overwhelmingly enthusiastic, from a wide range of sectors, including politicians, businesses, trades unions, public sector organisations and the members of the public. The Greenpeace campaign pack forms Appendix 1 (not printed).

  This encouraging response led to the formation of the Commission for Wave Power in Scotland to carry forward the impetus of the campaign[1]. The Commission works to the remit that it will "determine how to capitalise on the industrial opportunities offered by Scotland's position as world leader in wave power". It has recently produced a five-point plan for wave power in Scotland and a report recommending the establishment of a wave power test centre (Appendix 2 [not printed]), both of which Greenpeace endorses.

  This submission concentrates on wave power, reflecting Greenpeace's involvement. However, a number of the arguments made here about UK expertise would apply equally to tidal current power. Greenpeace views with optimism the recent encouraging developments in tidal current power technology.

2.  Why is wave power worth developing?

  The vast resource was recognised as far back as 1977, when the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) said of wave power that "its development potential along the UK west coast exceeds the present capacity of the CEGB". It further noted that "There are currently 120GW of wave power being dissipated on the beaches—nearly five times the average demand"ii. More recently, ETSU put the accessible resource at double the UK electricity supplyiii. The UK has one of the world's best wave power resources.

  This resource could be and should be a large part of the answer to our environmentally disastrous societal addiction to fossil fuels. Alongside this environmental imperative there is a startling commercial opportunity assessed by the Government's leading wave adviser, Tom Thorpe, as a total capital investment value of £500 billion globally and £10 billion in the UKiv. A similar development trajectory to that displayed by wind power would result in realisation of this market potential by 2020v.

  But the UK is not necessarily going to win first-mover advantage in this emergent market. Yes, the UK retains some of the world's leading wave power experts and some of its most innovative companies, despite the ill-judged closure of the previous DTI wave programme in 1982. And John Battle's announcement in 1999 to re-start R&D funding for wave power is a welcome step in the right direction. However, the context of this announcement was a DTA renewable strategy document that only sees wave power as having potential in the "longer term (after 2010)". This categorisation shows no appreciation of the urgency of the task required if the UK is not to lose its world lead in wave power in the same way it lost its once world-leading position in wind power. The DTI has taken the view that wave power is 10 years away for so long that it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  The tiny scale of the funding announced reflects this lack of ambition. Tom Thorpe also points out that of the 15 wave power devices deployed in the last two decades, only two have been in the UK. A warning note for the UK should be sounded by the recent decision by the oil company Woodside to buy a stake in US company Ocean Power Technologies, as their "first major investment in a renewable energy technology"vi. The scale of their ambition is indicated by their option to purchase, by 2012, half a million tonnes of CO2 credits, which implies installation of some 5,000 of Ocean Power Technologies' wave power machines by that date[2]. A sharp contrast with the UK is the Danish support programme which clearly means business: it has a clear structure of how smaller grants will lead to bigger grants as machines prove themselves. Over four years up to 2002 the programme was projected to spend DKK40 millionvii, which is £3 million, approximately triple the estimated UK expenditure on wave power over the same period, despite the fact that Denmark is one tenth of the size of the UK. Denmark has successfully captured the lion's share of the $3.5 billion wind power market from a position behind the UK. The race to win the wave power market is on, and now is the time for the UK to give its runners a decisive boost.

3.  A winning strategy for UK wave power

  "The market will decide" has embedded itself in Government thinking ever since the politically embarrassing demise of various nationalised industries, and has resulted in statements on renewables by successive DTI Ministers along the lines that it is "not for the Government to pick winners". However understandable the desire to escape from accusations of "dirigisme", and however poignant the examples of past Governments' abilities to pick failures like the nuclear industry, the fact is that this is not an adequate Government response to embryo technologies and infant industries. A distinction should be clearly drawn between backing individual firms or inventions, and backing sectors that are rapidly approaching maturity, and for which there is a pressing environmental, commercial and societal case, of which wave power is a fine example.

  It is a well-worn British lament, based on all too many examples, that the UK fails to bring outstanding UK research to successful commercialisation. It would be wrong to lay the blame entirely at Government's door, but there is certainly a strong Government role to be played in addressing this malaise. There are, of course, world-beating British success stories, and it is heartening that one of these is ideally suited to assist wave power achieve commercial lift-off. The offshore oil and gas sector, whilst itself environmentally unsustainable, does have exactly the skills and technology required to build and install wave power machines that will survive in the hostile marine environments where wave power is highest. "Synergies between renewable and conventional marine energy industries" are one of two main themes identified by The Marine Foresight Panel of the Office of Science and Technology. Their recent reportviii highlights 10 priority technical areas where "the vast experience of the offshore hydrocarbon industry should be extremely useful to the emerging marine renewable energy industry". The UK also has a long and proud history of shipbuilding, albeit in sad decline, and it is notable that at a recent wave power conference, Harland and Wolff stated that they "have a role and an opportunity in getting actively involved in offshore renewable energy . . . this is going to be very big business"ix.

  So, the UK has the natural resource, the expertise in wave power technologies, and the manufacturing and industrial capacity to accomplish the tough task of putting wave machines in place. The question is: what plan should the Government adopt to harness these capacities? Greenpeace believes the following set of measures can turn the UK's technical potential into commercial reality.

  1.  Adopt a clear policy objective to establish the UK as world leader in the commercial wave power industry.

  2.  Set ambitious targets to achieve electricity from wave power. There must be a target for the next 10-year period, but targets for 2020 and 2030 should also be set because these will be a major encouragement for potential investors to commit to the UK.

  3.  Energy policy is not a devolved responsibility, but renewable energy policy is under discussion in the devolved legislatures and regions. Given Scotland's special position with wave power firms and resources, the Scottish Executive should set the ambitious but attainable objective to obtain 10 per cent of Scotland's electricity from wave power in 10 years, and Westminster should encourage and assist them in this endeavour.

  4.  Make much more grant money available for wave power. It would be quite reasonable for the UK to aim for a programme an order of magnitude larger than that of Denmark. Greenpeace has proposed a Green Fuel Fund whereby, instead of lowering taxes on fossil fuel, just one pence of that tax, £500 million per year, should be used to promote renewable energy and green fuels. £50 million per year should be spent to develop wave power.

  5.  The trajectory of granting should be big grants for small projects then smaller grants for big projects, to support companies through the disproportionately high early development costs and risks so as to achieve the subsequent economies of up-scaling and cost reductions from technology development.

  6.  The Government should develop a strategy, of which the above measures would be a major part, to make the UK wave programme sufficiently attractive to draw in "big hitters", including the large maritime engineering and oil and gas interests. There inevitably will be hitches and delays with deployment of the first round of commercial wave power machines, just as the first offshore oil and gas faced drawbacks and problems. Big company support is required to overcome such early obstacles—a challenge it has shown it can easily rise to. The development of the North Sea's fossil fuel reserves is a highly pertinent example, albeit one which has been pursued to the great detriment of the climate. Diversification of this nature would bring great benefit to the UK regions that are starting to suffer from the economic effects of decline in the UK oil and gas sector.

  7.  Some of the grant money should be used to set up a UK test centre for wave power. The cost of a suitable test facility is a major obstacle to the UK's wave power companies. Site and wave resource surveys, cabling to shore, grid connection and shorebase equipment, monitoring and maintenance facilities are examples of infrastructure elements that could be made use of by any and all potential wave power businesses to test and show-case their products. Without such a facility, the additional cost on top of the cost of building a prototype or pre-production device over-reaches the resources available to most potential wave power developers. Both Ocean Power Delivery and Wavegen are seriously and urgently considering whether to go to a commercial test facility planned in Portugal, rather than test in the UK, despite their preference to stay herex. The value of a place for the UK wave power companies to showcase their technologies must not be underestimated. A test centre provides a key part of this showcase. Recent discussions with Scotland's wave power companies indicate that Orkney is emerging as leading contender. The centre might in addition serve a similarly valuable function for tidal current power.

  8.  The other necessary part of the showcase is a domestic commercial market for wave power. For too long the DTI has made the extraordinary assumption that UK companies can somehow win export markets without any domestic market to give them a base and shop-window to expand from (DTI policy on photovoltaics provides an object lesson). This bears no relation to commercial reality. The measures above will help ensure a domestic market for wave power, but it will also be essential to ensure that the wave power electricity from the first wave power devices can compete in the renewable electricity market place. This electricity will be comparatively more expensive than what follows because it will bear development costs and include no economies of scale. Grant funding should be used to bridge the gap so that wave power becomes a competitive option for utility companies to fulfil their renewable energy obligations.

  9.  None of the points above will achieve UK offshore wave power unless seabed sites are made available. The present round of discussions between DTI, DETR, MAFF and Crown Estates regarding consenting procedures for offshore wind power ought to provide a useful basis. However, the present discussions have yet to achieve amalgamation of the nightmarish combination of departments and procedures into the desirable one-stop-shop for potential developers. The complexities of the process mean uncertainty, delay, wasted time and resources for small companies who can't afford them. The DTI should take the lead to create a structure which delivers a one-stop-shop.

  10.  A further requirement is a far-reaching programme to up-grade the weak peripheral grid areas critical to connection to the wave power resource. This would also aid development of other renewable energy resources such as wind power. Utility companies now have somewhat more incentive to upgrade the grid for renewables due to the approaching renewable energy obligation, but further carrots and sticks are required to institute and up-grade programme sufficient to guarantee that deployment of wave power development can go ahead rapidly on a large scale. It is not acceptable that the cost of this task be left entirely to the developers of renewable energy themselves.

List of Appendices

  1.  Greenpeace Wave Power Campaign Pack.

  2.  Commission for Wave Power in Scotland's Five Point Action Plan for Wave Power and proposal for a wave power test centre.


  i.  Nature's Bottom Line, Climate Protection and the Carbon Logic, Greenpeace UK, 1998, 4pp (80pp carbon logic full technical analysis available on request).

  ii.  Glendenning, I, 1977, Energy from the Sea, Chemistry and Industry, p588-599, as cited in Ross, D, 1995, Power from the Waves, OUP, 212pp.

  iii.  New and Renewable Energy: Prospects in the UK for the 21st Century, Supporting Analysis, A report produced by ETSU for the Department of Trade and Industry, March 1999, p158, 258pp.

  iv.  Thorpe, TW, 1999, An Overview of Wave Energy Technologies: Status, Performance and Costs, paper in proceedings of DTI/ImechE sponsored seminar Wave Power: Moving Towards Commercial Viability, 30 Nov 1999.

  v.  Thorpe, T, February 2001, paper in preparation.

  vi.  Woodside and OPT joint News Release, January 3rd 2001, Woodside invests in Ocean Power Technologies.

  vii.  Nielsen, K, and Meyer, NI, 1998, The Danish Wave Energy Programme, Proceedings of the Third World Wave Energy Conference, Patras, Greece, October 1998.

  viii.  The Marine Foresight Panel of the Office of Science and Technology, Energies from the Sea, April 1999, 29pp.

  ix.  Paper to DTI/ImechE seminar on wave power at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, Wave Power, Moving Towards Commercial Viability, 30 November 1999.

  x.  Personal communications Feb 2001.

February 2001

1   The Commission operates under the chairmanship of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, with a secretariat provided by the Scottish Council Foundation. The Commission comprises a cross-party group of Members of the Scottish Parliament who hold relevant briefs, utility company input from the Head of Generation of Scottish and Southern, the leading wave power expert Tom Thorpe, renewable energy investor Fred Olsen Production, and Community Development organisation Forward Scotland. Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Power, Wavegen, Ocean Power Delivery and Greenpeace offer advice to the Commission as required. Back

2   500,000 tonnes CO2 approximately corresponds to 524,000,000kWh of generation using 955g/kWh for the coal-based Australian electricity mix, which corresponds to 4,800 of the 50kW Ocean Power Technology wave power units assuming a 25 per cent capacity factor. Back

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